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My friend recently experienced a layoff at his workplace due to the company's projected revenue shortfall for the year. He's questioning whether this decision was fair, especially given that he believes he didn't deserve it. Interestingly, he noticed that another software developer, who seemed to be less productive, was retained, even though their salaries were very close. Is it appropriate for my friend to discuss his concerns with his boss?

Exhibit #1:

Based on the standup logs, it appears that my friend was actively contributing to different projects, as demonstrated by the following example from his standup log:

Successfully completed project A's dependency fixes.

In contrast, the other employee's standup entries seem less productive:

Engaged in testing for project A.

It's worth noting that the other employee not only duplicated my friend's work but also seemed to slack off, merely mentioning "testing project A," even though there is a dedicated QA team in place.

Exhibit #2:

Additionally, the other employee has openly stated during meetings on multiple occasions that he has no assigned tasks.

Lastly, it's important to mention that my friend has more seniority than the retained employee, and their salaries are very close.

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    this is a good life lesson that life isn't fair. The chance of negotiating this are almost zero.
    – Tiger Guy
    Sep 12, 2023 at 17:10
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    "He's questioning whether this decision was fair," to what end? hiring and firing generally doesn't even have to be "fair", just not illegal.
    – Aida Paul
    Sep 12, 2023 at 17:11
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    There’s a chance that his manager thought your friend would be the one who can find a new job easily. At a better salary. So he decided to not do what’s best for the company and instead kept the other guy. He might have a family relying on his income, or other reasons.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 12, 2023 at 20:48
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    Without knowing which country your friend works in, there is no way to tell. Layoffs are often bound by regulations, the company cannot just lay off who they want (for that, they would have to fire them, and be bound by those regulations). Please state your country.
    – nvoigt
    Sep 13, 2023 at 5:03
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    FWIW, this is a plotline of The Office, where a laid-off employee convinces the boss to fire someone else instead. The absurdity is played for laughs; the show is basically an instruction manual of what not to do in the workplace. Sep 13, 2023 at 14:54

5 Answers 5

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Laid off from work but the undeserving one was not. Fight for it?

There really is nothing to fight. The company has made a decision and your friend has to live with it. Whatever some other employee may or may not be doing has no bearing on your friend and is a poor argument for them keeping their employment.

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    This seems to be legally incorrect in many jurisdictions. Redundancy is a closely regulated area and must meet standards of fairness. What others do is very relevant. But, and IANAL, I believe it is rare to win such cases unless there is obvious discrimination on protected lines. Sep 13, 2023 at 17:33
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    Yes, in Europe, it can actually happen that a termination is annulled by the courts and continued employment mandated. Of course, actually staying is only palatable and viable for people that are very skilled in and passionate about office politics, but at least it would allow to officially be the party quitting :) Sep 13, 2023 at 23:30
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    @rackandboneman You can also get paid off if they have broken the law.
    – Simd
    Sep 14, 2023 at 9:53
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    @JackAidley But where it is heavily regulated (like here in Sweden), the law tends to not be "you have to lay off the person who handled the least tickets".
    – xLeitix
    Sep 14, 2023 at 12:29
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    @JackAidley I don't think jurisdiction matters here. The OP gave no indication that the layoff may be illegal. The complaints were entirely about the perceived productivity of the other employee. As xLeitix mentioned, number of tasks completed is not a protected clsss, even in the most labor-friendly jurisdictions I'm aware of.
    – PC Luddite
    Sep 15, 2023 at 4:22
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sf02's answer covered the "Fight for it?" question, but I'd like to tackle this part:

Is it appropriate for my friend to discuss his concerns with his boss?

If by "discuss his concerns" you mean "argue", then — no, absolutely not, for the reasons that sf02 gave.

But it would certainly be appropriate for him to ask his boss for advice/feedback, and if he has a decent relationship with his boss, it would be fine to ask specifically about whether there's anything that he should have been doing differently, or anything that he should learn from being laid off. But it's very important that he ask this purely as a question about himself, not about himself compared to the other coworker. It may seem obvious that if they had to pick one of two people then there was naturally a comparison between them, but it's really not appropriate for your friend to bring that up, and (as sf02 says) it won't accomplish anything.

I think your friend's goals should be:

  • getting any advice/feedback that might benefit him in the future
    • For example, your friend may be missing some "soft skills" that he doesn't realize the importance of. If so, his boss may have helpful advice/feedback.
  • finding out whether his boss will be a good reference for him in the future
    • Some of this will be clear from the advice/feedback (and the boss may even volunteer it), but it's also fine to directly ask the boss if he'll be a good reference.
  • increasing the chances that his boss will be a good reference for him in the future
    • Of course, if his boss has big issues with your friend, then one conversation won't fix that; but if the boss has just smaller concerns, and your friend listens to his boss's advice/feedback in such a way that leaves the boss optimistic that your friend will address those concerns, then his boss may feel more comfortable recommending him in the future.
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    This sounds like excellent advice. In addition to the feedback being useful and the chance that this improves your reference this is also probably the best pathway for working for this company again if that really is the goal of your friend (it probably should not be, but we don't know the exact situation). The boss will remember them more positively when taking this approach and perhaps if the financial situation changes they would be open to hiring the friend again at a later time.
    – Kvothe
    Sep 13, 2023 at 12:29
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Fighting for it would be extremely inappropriate in most circumstances. There is a lot of decision-making and considerations going into evaluating employees. Friend (for simplicity "Alice") saying "you were wrong to let me go, fire other employee (for simplicity Bob) instead!" would not go down well. It comes off as arrogant and petulant. Even if rooted in good intentions and correct information. However, it might not be:

  • Bob might be the boss' nephew. Yes, nepotism exists - fighting to get them removed will not work.
  • Bob might have legal reason to be retained. In that it might be extremely risky to let them go.
  • Bob might be contributing in ways less visible - both visible in stand-up or otherwise.
  • Bob might have a family and kids, while Alice is single and childless. A boss might be less inclined to lay off a family person. While single are viewed as more financially independent. This is a human factor consideration.
  • Alice might have shown to be undesirable to work with despite their high contributions. Thus it is not contribution to project which was a deciding factor.
  • Alice might be good employee, has even done excellent work. However, maybe that work is no longer needed, thus no reason to retain them. While the Bob does some tasks that are still valuable. Pure financial decision.
  • Bob might saved the boss' prize pet hamster from a burning building, now the boss feels retaining a job is the least reward. Is it likely? Probably no. Point is there can be many other considerations.

There is nothing to gain here that will not come at the cost of goodwill. Best case scenario is:

Alice is reinstated, Bob let go instead.
However: Now lots of the other employees would know Alice as "the one who got Bob fired". Even if that was an overall good decision (Bob was indeed lower valued employee, Alice was indeed a higher valued one), it would what could be perceived as mud slinging.

Even a neutral does not work that great:

Alice remains laid off, Bob remains employed.
However: Alice is still coming in a bad light trying to get somebody else fired.

Even worse for Alice would be the case where Alice remains laid off, Bob also gets laid off.

All possible result that will come up accompanied with the airing of dirty laundry. That will involve Bob's but also very likely Alice's.

The quote from War Games rings true:

A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.


Even a more fundamental issue here is understanding that a business is not a friend or family. Once the contract is finished, Alice does not owe the ex-employer anything. And vice versa. The social norms would be to keep in touch with ex-colleagues you got along with. Maybe even provide small helpful information to the company. In general, mildly amicable relationship, if any.

Either party trying to besmirch the other is not acceptable.

Even if Bob is really dragging the company down, even if Alice was a key employee to keep it up. Even iff the decision for who to lay off or not right now directly leads to the company's downfall. Were all of this unequivocally true, Alice does not need to do anything here. The company's success is not Alice's direct concern any more. Not any more than anybody else who is not an employee.

Worth noting that it is rather unlikely the fate of the company to be resting at Alice's shoulders anyway.

With all that said, if Alice was indeed as a good employee as described here, they should have little trouble finding another job. They should concentrate on that. In general, spending time and energy on previous employers when there was contentious circumstances is not a useful endeavour.

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    Alice is deemed better and better able to get a new job, boss figures she'll have a new job with a pay raise by the end of the day, while Bob could be out of work indefinitely.
    – jmoreno
    Sep 13, 2023 at 19:18
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    Bob might be the last employee to know the details of the ad-hoc OOP implementation in the legacy COBOL program that runs the companys core processes, so even if he is kind of slacking right now, his knowledge might be invaluable. Sep 15, 2023 at 7:49
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EDIT: Answer was based on formatting of previous question version which substantially changed its meaning.

This answer is no longer relevant to the question's existing version but will be kept for reference.

Successfully completed project A's dependency fixes. In contrast, the other employee's standup entries seem less productive:

Engaged in testing for project A. It's worth noting that the other employee not only duplicated my friend's work but also seemed to slack off, merely mentioning "testing project A," even though there is a dedicated QA team in place.

Why is your friend putting in other people's behavior in his log?

Why would they talk about the lack of productivity of another colleague?

Even if your friend is a 10x developer, this type of behavior is outright toxic and good managers don't want to deal with you.

Toxic behavior is extremely detrimental to the entire department. I cringed reading those logs, and I'm sure everyone, even those not involved, really wished he didn't put that in.

If your friend is still stuck on his ego high-chair, he really needs to get off that and stop being toxic. It may have worked in school, but he's in the real world now.

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    I think OP may have misformatted the logs such that commentary by OP made it into the logs. At least that’s how it reads to me. OP is this correct?
    – bob
    Sep 13, 2023 at 1:57
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    It is clear that OP's friend's log is only "Successfully completed project A's dependency fixes" and the other employee's log is "Engaged in testing for project A.". There is no toxic behavior from anyone.
    – wimi
    Sep 13, 2023 at 6:42
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You've already accepted a good answer, but let me add another reason for not fighting to stay:

It seems* that the employer makes questionable management decisions, e.g. by keeping a lower performer but laying off a better performer. Also, keeping an (on average) lower-performing workforce for the same (on average) remuneration, after layoffs, seems* to be bound to lead to more financial difficulties later on.

So: why would one want to stay on there, rather than having the opportunity shoved in your lap to find a better employer ("being pushed off a sinking/leaky ship")? Being laid off due to downsizing does seem to me one of the more innocuous reasons to be looking for new employment - happend to a lot of people, including me - and a lot of employers have lain off people including companies that will be interviewed. Recruiters I discussed this with agreed that it is not a problem as long as there are not other red flags also.

*= Caveat: This opinion is based purely on the narrative in the question. There are many other factors not taken into account, e.g. the size of the layoff round, the actual decisions process of management to arrive at the conclusions, the relative importance if OP's friend's project vs. the other person's project in the company's future plans, etc. etc. Also, we can't know if the rescue actions will in fact put the company back on track in the future.

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  • I like this answer best. If a company has poor management, the management won't improve by forcing a different particular decision. The only way to improve the management (in one's own eyes) is to become a manager which is likely not a possible carrer path in this particular context.
    – fraxinus
    Sep 14, 2023 at 6:26

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